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1.You shall have no other gods before me.
2.You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God.
3.Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. 
4.Honor your fatherand your mother.
5.You shall not murder.
6.You shall not commit adultery.

7.You shall not steal.
8.You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.
9.You shall not covet your neighbor's house.
10.You shall not covet your neighbor's wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.

 



The School and the Ten Commandments
Posted April 3, 2002, thepeoplesvoice.org

By: Rev. Kara Mueller

Most of us know them but many North Carolina public school children are getting to know them a lot better.  In the NC Student Citizen Act of 2001 it became legal to post the Ten Commandments in N.C. public school classrooms, and many teachers have chosen to do so.  Governor Michael Easley signed this bill on August 10, 2001.

The bill allows for schools and teachers to post documents of historical significance.  With a Supreme Court decision (Stone v. Graham) in 1980 which struck down a Kentucky law requiring the posting of the 10 commandments in classrooms, because it is “undeniably a sacred text”, you would think the State of North Carolina’s representatives would spend their time making more valuable amendments.  Like in the NC bill, in the Kentucky case, it was also noted that the commandments display was to illustrate the history of American Law, even with that stipulation the Supreme Court rejected it.  Here is a portion of the NC bill and the amendment that allows for the posting of the Ten Commandments (Portions in red are the newly amended sections):

SECTION 2.(d)  G.S. 115C-81(g) is amended by adding a new subdivision to read:

       "(3b)  A local school administrative unit may display on real property controlled by that local school administrative unit documents and objects of historical significance that have formed and influenced the United States legal or governmental system and that exemplify the development of the rule of law, such as the Magna Carta, the Mecklenburg Declaration, the Ten Commandments, the Justinian Code, and documents set out in subdivision (3a) of this subsection.   This display may include, but shall not be limited to, documents that contain words associated with a religion; provided however, no display shall seek to establish or promote religion or to persuade any person to embrace a particular religion, denomination of a religion, or other philosophy.  The display of a document containing words associated with a religion shall be in the same manner and appearance generally as other documents and objects displayed and shall not be presented or displayed in any fashion that results in calling attention to it apart from the other displayed documents and objects. The display also shall be accompanied by a prominent sign quoting the First Amendment of the United States Constitution as follows: 'Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.' "

       SECTION 3. If any provision of this act is declared unconstitutional or invalid by the courts, it does not affect the validity of this act as a whole or any part other than the part so declared to be unconstitutional or invalid.

How can the display of this pivotal piece of religious doctrine not promote Abrahamic faiths, or persuade children to embrace them?  Many young children look up to their teachers.  Teachers act as role models, particularly in the elementary grades, and are often able to spend more waking time with a child then their own parents.

As young children learn to read they pay special attention to their classroom posters and art.  What happens when a young child from a polytheistic religion, such as Hinduism, reads commandment number one: “You shall have no other gods before me.” How is this going to make that child feel?  This commandment discriminates against any follower of a polytheistic faith or any person that doesn’t follow the god of Abraham.  This commandment will likely similarly affect children from secular, Humanist, Agnostic, or Atheist families.  The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) believes, "The Ten Commandments advocate believing in God, observing the Sabbath and not worshipping idols. Those are religious beliefs, which citizens are free to hold or not; they are not the proper subject of governmental policy."

Based on a message from the State of North Carolina Office of the Governor, “The bill provides that schools may post documents of historical significance that “formed and influenced the United States legal or governmental system.”   This argument for the posting of the 10 commandments has become a lot more popular, post September 11, with the scripture appearing in monument form at schools and courthouses as a show of patriotism.  Despite American historians saying there is no proof the 10 commandments had any more influence over the American governmental system that any other moral code.  The ACLU states, “Although the Ten Commandments are a part of our legal history, they are hardly the basis of our laws. Laws commanding persons which God to worship, whether and how God should be worshiped, or prohibiting graven images are clearly contradictory to our Constitution, as would be laws setting an official Sabbath or telling citizens not have covetous thoughts. Prohibitions against stealing, lying, killing and adultery are common to most legal codes-including those predating Christianity-and are not exclusive to the Ten Commandments.”

How many N.C. teachers are posting the Ten Commandments in their class?  A middle school teacher from eastern North Carolina estimates that 15% of teaches have a copy of the Ten Commandants posted in their classrooms.  The same teacher estimates that, prior to 9-11, 1% of the classes had American flags (post 9-11 that number has risen to about 35%).  Interestingly, this teacher states that teachers in her school system are not allowed to lead the Pledge of Allegiance. In her school system if the Pledge of Allegiance is to be given it must fist be requested by a student and also lead by a student.  What’s was more disturbing, this teacher said approximately 30% of the teachers in her school always keep a bible openly visible in the classroom; these numbers jump to as high as 60% if you include devotional and prayer books. 

The prominent display of such basic tenants of Abrahamic faiths can make a young child feel as though something is wrong with their faith; that it isn't "special" enough to get such distinction from the teacher.  Children from minority faiths are often singled out for being different often enough by peers, they should not feel similar disapproval from their instructors, authority figures, and someone they can not help to look up to and seek approval from. 

With religious doctrine forbidden to be taught by teachers in N.C. public schools, how is a teacher supposed to address questions about the Ten Commandments without getting into a theological discussion?  According to the ACLU, “School teachers and administrators--when acting in those capacities--are agents of the government and are restricted from using their government derived powers to further their personal religious views, including displaying the Ten Commandments in their offices, classrooms, or on their desks.”

Governor Easley states that he signed the bill on August 10, 2001 because “it is imperative to create the best possible environment for learning in North Carolina’s public schools.”  Governor Easley also believes that “some students have little exposure to good citizenship values outside of school” and that House Bill 195 encourages values for NC public students.  The August 2001 bill would have better embraced good citizenship by encouraging the learning and understanding of such documents as the Bill of Rights and knowing the Pledge of Allegiance, which many children had never heard, prior to the September 11, 2001attacks.  Good citizens can be Atheists, Agnostics, Buddhists, Hindus, Wiccans and any faith, why exclude their moral tenants from the bill?  Some of these traditions are even older than the 10 commandments.

Posting an Abrahamic moral code in the classroom will not create patriotic citizens or create a better classroom “environment”.  And apparently, based on the amount of religious literature left openly visible in some classes, public school teachers were never informed that the goal of this bill was to promote good citizenship and not religion.  I ask our elected officials if “it is imperative to create the best possible environment for learning in North Carolina’s public schools”, should we not protect the self-esteem and spiritual health of all our students?  This journalist believes we should avoid the entanglement of religion and government in all places but most of all our public schools where people from all spiritual backgrounds come together for the goal of education, not spiritual enlightenment.

Copyright 2002, All Rights Reserved by Kara Mueller

Kara Mueller is an interfaith-nondenominational minister in Raleigh, North Carolina. Who, in light of the North Carolina budget crisis, is appalled that this could waste any tax dollars being challenged in the court system.
Online Resources:

ACLU - Civil Liberties in School


Displays Entangle Ten Commandments, First Amendment


Church And State Article


Justian Code


Kentucky Schools Post Ten Commandments


NC House Bill 195


NC House Bill 195


Ten Commandments


Which Ten Commandments?

 

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